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Limitations of Stolypin's Reform

The Revolutionary Masses

But Stolypinís numerous critics have pointed, for example, to the limited scope of Stolypinís land reform, which represented, in a sense, one more effort to save gentry land by making the peasants redivide what they already possessed. Some peasants were compelled to sell their land and move to towns, where they joined the ranks of the urban wage-workers. This suggests that the Stolypin reforms, far from solving the problems of discontented peasants, may have driven them to the towns and turned them into radicalized dispossessed proletarians.   

In Stolypinís own time his agrarian policy was attacked by critics from the far left to the far right of the political spectrum. Some of his most implacable opponents came from the ranks of Socialist-Revolutionaries who had every reason to think that the implementation of the new measures would cut directly against their revolutionary aspirations, spelling the end of their dreams of peasant socialism in Russia. Fearing the disintegration of the commune, the neo-Narodnik propagandists agitated against the right of peasants to leave the commune and against the privatization of the communal land.

Russian well-to-do peasants of the early 20th century

At the other end of the spectrum the new policy was not supported by many conservatives, who feared a sharp break with the paternalistic tradition.  And the prime ministerís critics were by no means limited to the defenders of the commune as such. Even the liberal opposition had its doubts. As Paul Miliukov, the leader of the liberal Kadets,  pointed out:


The Stolypin reform tried to divert peasants from the division of the land of the nobles by the division of their own land for the benefit of the most prosperous part of the peasantry.


Thus, argued critics, far from curing the basic ills of rural Russia, the reform added new problems to the old ones, in particular by helping to stratify the peasant mass and by creating hostility between the stronger and richer peasants and their poorer and more egalitarian brethren. It is worth noting that communal peasants disliked peasants-proprietors even more than landlords; in 1917 the first lands they seized belonged to neighbors who had left the commune.

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